NPF Pensions and Enhanced Police Welfare

NPF Pensions and Enhanced Police Welfare

By Ikechukwu Amaechi

To say that the police have for too long been the people’s bête noire is to say the fact. Yet, if there is any issue the #EndSARS protests which rocked the country in October brought to the fore, it is the other fact, which is, Nigerian policemen hold the wrong end of the welfare stick in the security circle.

Yet, without the police, security of lives and property will be grossly compromised, a reality which has placed Nigerians in a quandary.

So, what to do? Reform the institution and re-orientate its personnel. Nigerians unanimously agree that is the way to go. President Muhammadu Buhari does not disagree either. And his appreciation of this crisis and the urgency it demands is at the core of his vow to improve the welfare of Nigerian policemen.

But the problems are hydra-headed. Nigerian policemen have the misfortune of being paid very low wages. That is the biggest impediment against attracting skilled manpower into the force. As the common English idiom goes, “If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.”

Worse still, not only are police officers poorly remunerated while in active service, in retirement, they don’t fare any better because of the historically low wages.

So, any policy aimed at addressing police welfare must be fundamental and not superfluous. It must assuage the agitation for equitable pension package commensurate with what colleagues in other ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) get.

But the good news is that there are low hanging fruits which the government can harvest.

The average policeman is mortally afraid of the unknown: life after retirement. This fear informs most, if not all, of their most egregious conduct while in active service.

So, any attempt to address the welfare of the police must take a peep at the future. How can policemen be assured of a decent life after 35 years of service to fatherland?

Granted, there will always be bad apples, who, no matter what, will allow their greed overcome their sense of decency and fidelity to public good. But if policemen are assured of improved welfare in and out of service, it becomes a great disincentive for odious conduct.

And here, the Nigeria Police Force Pensions Limited – the Pension Fund Administrator (PFA) licensed by the National Pension Commission (PenCom) in accordance with the Pension Reform Act (PRA 2014) to exclusively manage the pension assets of all police personnel – has done a yeoman’s job in the last six years.

Even President Buhari acknowledged this fact on October 20, 2020 when he virtually commissioned the magnificent NPF Pensions House in Abuja, the first purpose-built corporate headquarters of any PFA in Nigeria.

Said he: “To the NPF Pensions Limited, I wish to applaud your company for instituting a Retirees Resettlement Support Scheme through which you provide some form of financial support to retired police officers to enable them to resettle fully in retirement after meritoriously serving the nation.

“Taking your services to the doorstep of police officers by maintaining an office in each police command and formation is also very laudable … I urge you to continue your untiring efforts in collaborating with the police authorities towards improving the welfare of both serving and retired personnel of the Nigeria Police Force.”

Both points are important. The NPF Pensions Limited is a child of necessity. The Nigerian government which modelled the country’s Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) after the Chilean scheme that exempted both the armed forces and the police, insisted that the police will be part of its own scheme while exempting the military.

Before 2014, policemen were scattered in all the other 20 PFAs and even when the authorities requested exemption, the government demurred, insisting that the police institution was so big that it was not in the best interest of the country to let policemen out of the pension loop.

So, NPF Pensions Limited was a compromise whereby instead of letting the police exit the pension scheme, the National Pensions Commission (PenCom) in 2014 licensed a PFA exclusively dedicated to serve the police with a vision “to be the benchmark in Pension Fund Administration in Nigeria.”

Its mission, “To provide quality customer and financial advisory services to stakeholders and adopt investment strategies that would yield the best possible returns on their pension assets,” was even more ambitious.

Prior to its establishment, a large number of policemen on the CPS were neither receiving statements on their Retirement Savings Accounts (RSA) nor had any communication with the PFAs, and, therefore, didn’t know what was happening to their accounts.
So, the first task of the new PFA was to get in touch with their clients by locating policemen wherever they were in Nigeria. Offices were set up in all the 56 police formations and commands across the country.

Working also through the police pension offices and six regional offices with pension desk officers, NPF Pensions took their services directly to the officers wherever they are located.
To ensure that issues are addressed instantly, all the 62 offices are online, real time. It was a strategic move that not only eased the access of police officers to information, but also dramatically eased the stress of documentation by creating awareness.

For the first time, policemen could make enquiries on their Retirement Savings Account (RSA) from the comfort of their offices or homes by making use of self-service channels.

The goal was to ensure that every client was treated with respect and given priority attention regardless of rank. Then, the PFA ensured that policemen whose RSAs were either unfunded or underfunded were fully funded.

The result is phenomenal. Though the NPF Pensions is the 21st PFA to be licensed and came 10 years after the 20 others began operations in 2004, today, it is one of the five most performing PFAs in the country.

Though it has received as at September 30, 2020, N240.93 billion as transfers for 259,831 contributors, its assets under management as at October 31, 2020 stood at N630.23 billion. For accrued rights, it has received N62.90 billion and paid retirement benefits worth N50.27 to 18,422 retirees. A total of N1.51 billion has also been dispensed under the Retiree Resettlement Support Scheme (RRSS) to 10,400 retired officers while N4.46 billion was paid as death benefits to 1,173 next-of-kin of deceased officers. N523.12 million was paid as programmed withdrawal to 15,855 retired clients in October 2020.

The Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, appreciates what the PFA has accomplished in so short a time. “NPF Pensions Limited has become one of the most successful companies to be established in the Nigeria Police Force,” by placing, within six years of existence, the footprint of the police in the pension industry, he said.

To be fair, assenting to the Bill establishing the Police Trust Fund as well as the Nigerian Police Act 2020, both of which address welfare issues in the police, are testimonies to Buhari’s commitment to reforming the police for optimal service delivery through an enhanced welfare system.

But the NPF Pensions has, nevertheless, come up with various policy proposals to improve the welfare of serving and retired officers, which the government has not given commensurate attention.

Those suggestions are the low hanging fruits Buhari must harvest now.

The PFA has made a case for the upward review of the accrued rights of police retirees to address low lump sum and low monthly pension and the recognition and treatment of police officers from the rank of assistant inspector-general of police (AIG) and above as public office holders who should retire with full benefits just like permanent secretaries, pursuant to Section 7 of the Pension Reform Act.

Buhari’s approval has also been sought for special gratuity for police retirees at the rate of 300 per cent of annual gross salary upon retirement so that the balances in their Retirement Savings Accounts (RSAs) will be channeled towards monthly pension payments and to bring them at par with their peers in the public service.

The request was anchored on Section 4 (4) of the Pension Reform Act which provides that an employer, notwithstanding the provisions of the Act, may agree on the payment of additional benefits to the employee upon retirement.
And the PFA has advocated for a separate budgeting and remittance of accrued rights for police officers, arguing that grouping the police with other MDAs makes the process cumbersome. This is actually the big elephant in Nigeria’s pension room.
Many retired officers can’t understand why they have to wait for months to access their retirement benefits and most times they blame, wrongly, their PFA for their ordeal. But the delay results from the inability of the government to release the accrued rights as and when due.

The contributory pension scheme comprises 7.5 per cent deducted from the salary of a public servant and the counterpart 7.5 per cent contributed by the employer – the government – and the accrued rights derived from the services such an officer rendered to the government.

Abuja’s inability to pay the accrued rights promptly is due to poor finances. Before the CPS was introduced in 2004, the accumulated pension liability was over N2 trillion for the public sector alone.

But the PFA is bridging this gap by providing its clients with quality financial advisory services and management continues to reinvent itself by adopting investment strategies that would yield the best possible returns on pension assets, which it then deploys in ensuring that retirees have better value for their contributions.
It does this by utilising a portion of the annual profit as a welfare package – Retirement Resettlement Support Scheme (RRSS) – for retirees before their retirement benefits are paid.

The N500 million RRSS, a corporate social responsibility scheme, is not part of its mandate. In fact, till date, it remains the only PFA that gives back to its clients and it has become the ultimate game changer in the industry since it was approved by the NPF Pensions Board in 2017.

For Buhari to have singled out the RRSS for commendation in his October 20 speech, amplifies its significance.

But police retirees, nevertheless, expect their benefits to be promptly paid after retirement.

Unbundling the accrued rights remittance process as requested by NPF Pensions will solve this problem.

To ensure that every worker is meaningfully rewarded at retirement, the Pension Reform Act 2014 reviewed upwards the minimum rate of pension contribution from 15 per cent to 18 per cent of monthly emolument, where 8 per cent will be contributed by employee and 10 per cent by the employer. Unfortunately, six years after, this has not been implemented.
NPF Pensions strongly believes that the implementation of the 10 per cent employer contribution for the police will significantly enhance an officer’s RSA balance on retirement and is, therefore, pushing hard for its implementation.
On police welfare, NPF Pensions has workable solutions and has the president’s back. All Buhari needs do is walk his talk by approving the policy proposals already on his table.

Will that give Nigeria a police force populated by angels? Not at all. Angels live in heaven. But it will significantly point the personnel to the direction of a different work ethics and policing worldview.

In repositioning the police, both the president and the police apparatchik have an ally in the NPF Pensions. If they listen, they may well find out that most problems bedeviling the police have solutions already proffered by the PFA.

That is why everything must be done to preserve its one-client status because NPF Pensions Limited is the best advocate for enhanced police welfare.

Policemen are better off if they speak with one voice. And their PFA gives them that collective voice and the leverage they need. Doing otherwise through the transfer window will run against the spirit of the PRA 2014. It will also be counterproductive.

*Amaechi, a journalist, is a pensions expert

The Online Church versus the Mystical Church of Christ?

The Online Church versus the Mystical Church of Christ?

A proper understanding of the Church wrestles with historical and theological
complexities that underscore her nature as a mystery in history. Without going into
such complex issues, suffice it to say that fundamentally the Church is about
Christ. Hence, a Christless Church is as absurd as a Churchless Christian. In
response to the lockdown occasioned by COVID-19, Christian Churches
translocated their worship online. The decision to suspend public religious
assemblies momentarily, which caused discontentment and confusion to many
Christians, offered some a needed alibi to attenuate the value of Sunday worship
assembly. They questioned the rationale behind the insistence on Sunday worship
attendance since technology provides an alternative way of worshipping.
Consequently, the weakness of the faith of some Christians became evident in their
positions. In their estimation, true worshippers do it in Spirit and in truth (cf. John
4:23), after all, religion is in the heart (uka di n’obi). As a result, the Church needs
to adapt to modern development. This position runs contrary to ‘what it was to be’
Church and demonstrates a superficial appreciation of her mission. In any case, an
adequate understanding of the mystery of the Church arrests this challenge by
clarifying her true identity.
From whatever perspective (biblical, theological, spiritual, anthropological,
sociological and eschatological), the Church is a body. She is the body and bride of
Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 12:12-14; 2 Cor. 11:2-4; Eph. 5: 22-33); the assembly of
believers, the body of the people of God, the temple of the Spirit, a communion.
Presence underscores these expressions of bodiliness as an essential factor. The
Church needs real presence to be Church such that being the Church and going to
church are not mutually exclusive. From the perspective of spirituality, being and
doing are not separated. It is in doing that being is expressed – going to church is
essential to being part of the Church such that absenting oneself from the assembly
of the faithful contravenes God’s law (cf. Heb.10:25). In that case, appealing to the
alibi of the Church in the heart manifests extreme lack of knowledge of the
corporate nature of the sacred communion, the Church. As the communion of the
saved and instrument of salvation and fellowship with all creation, this divine
project serves man’s ultimate purpose.
The weekly Christian worship, in a special way, demonstrates this corporate nature
by our prayer patrimony, “Our Father”, for the Church offers us the opportunity of
assuming the filial relationship within fraternal context. The Church significantly
demonstrates human inter-subjectivity. She is always a relationship of “I with
You” and the “You” is Christ but since Christ comprises of all he saved, the
Church is an encounter of “I” with “totus Christus” (whole Christ) and not “solus
Christus” (solitary Christ). The “whole Christ” is a corporate concept of Christ the
head with the faithful. Arguably true, the Church is the most significant possibility
of assumption and expression of our identity as humans. It resonates with the core
of our beings expressing both dignity and indigence all at once and letting our
poverty encounter the greatness of Christ in whose providence we thrive.
In the Church, our brokenness meets our nobility in Christ and submits our poverty
to God’s greatness, who by his providence takes over our cares and concerns. Our
self-reserving, self-referential, self-congratulating and self-idolatrous obsession
makes us feel at the centre of the universe. However, at worship, we begin a
journey of self-discovery, which is a real exodus of self-giving that courageously
opens us to the reality of what life is and offers. It helps us to see in the entirety of
the community the meaning of communion in Christ. The gathering expresses the
human dimension of the Church; the concreteness of the assembly makes it evident
that the Church is not just a spiritual reality or amorphous entity not instantiated
in‘re’. Each gathered assembly (the ekklesia of God) is the point of contact that
opens up to all other so-gathered communities for the spiritual communion given
by God. The disciples gathered in the upper room before the Holy Spirit came
upon them and constituted them into a Church (cf. Acts 2).
The Church of Christ is neither just an invisible spiritual reality with no
“fundamentum in re” nor only a visible physical entity; she is a “both … and”
inclusive project of the Father. The Body of Christ is a mystery symbolically
expressed both in spiritual and physical realities with a permanent foundation in
Christ by the Spirit. For the Church to be consistent with her symbolic nature
respecting its various ramifications, she has to be concretely present and
encountered. By way of analogy, since there cannot be a marital act without the
physical presence of the couples irrespective of whatever assistance the digital
operation offers, so also regardless of the digital support in times of extreme
necessities, there cannot be Church properly so-called without the physical
presence of the assembly. This concrete presence symbolizes a mystical
communion. In consequence, sacraments (Confession, Chrismation, Eucharist,
Marriage, etc.) are not administered online.
While digital technology creates new relations, communities and cultural praxis
that impact the general cultural practices of a people, these realities are,
notwithstanding, offshoots of the existing cultures. The digital anthropology is
embedded in the science of man. It cannot be disconnected from anthropology,
which funds its development in its study of the socio-cultural phenomena within
the digital interactive space. As such, a people’s appreciation of religious worship
or sacred mysteries will impact how they treat them relative to the online
possibilities. This anthropological disposition funds perspectives and conceptions
of faith expression.
Worthy of note is that, as the digital technology offers assistance to physically
absent couples to sustain their conjugal love, it will in no way replace the physical
presence or diminish its value. In truth, the online reality sustains the desire for
communion, creates and raises their expectancy, arouses their hunger for each
other as an appetizer and stirs joy for their physical meeting. Yet the Internet is
never a substitute for real presence in any conjugal relationship, be it between
humans or bridal relationship of the Church with Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 11:2-4; Eph.
5:22-33; Rom. 7). How can there be a conjugal relationship without the real
presence of the bride; how can there be a Church without the actual presence of the
gathered assembly? In the sacred bridal interconnection with the divine Groom, the
assembly becomes the real presence of the bride ready for the encounter with the
Groom by the Spirit. This assembly that is a communion of shared beliefs and
“becomings” relives the experience and whets her appetite for the real stuff on the
marriage feast of the Lamb on the last day (cf. Rev. 19:7).
Unfortunately, our desire for autonomy from the authorities does subtly make us
promote online liturgy instead of onsite worship. The member-shopping drive
where some target a select number of elite or middle-class faithful, who are
religiously faithful to the online offertory, digital tithe and online harvests,
aggravates faith crisis. Ecco! The temptation to these can make us not to explain to
people the difference between the ad hoc and extraordinary online liturgy and the
weekly onsite worship. Such a lack of profound Catechesis atrophies the faith of
the faithful at the onsite worship.
Properly speaking, going to the Church is like expressing the pilgrimage nature of
life. Since life is a journey, then attending Sunday worship puts the inner stir in
active mode. It is a refusal to be destitute and deity at the same time. God, who in
his all powerfulness could save humanity by his Word or by willing it alone but
chose the human way of encounter (bodily process), wants us to meet. He invites
us to meet as a people called by his name (cf. Matt. 18:20). The Church is,
therefore, a mystery of corporate existence, which abhors individualism or lone-
ranger spirituality.
Finally, faith has both private and public dimensions. The public aspect not only
implicates the need for public witnessing but also finds concrete expression in
liturgical gatherings of Christ’s faithful by which the Church as a mystical body
and community of believers is specially demonstrated. There is no gain writing it
in capital letters to make the point that privatizing the faith can only atrophy or kill
it. To see digital connection with faith community, which online worship fosters in
the face of the pandemic, as a replacement for the incarnated, mystical and
sacramental communion which onsite worship enthrones would play into the hands
of those who want the demise of the Christian faith. The Tele-Church does not
represent the ekklesia of Christ and does not suffice for Weekly Eucharistic
assembly because a Tele-Eucharist fails the Incarnation criteria. Similarly, there is
no ekklesia on the Internet, rather virtual worship can serve as “praeparatio
evangelica” and indeed, “logos spermatikos”, seeds of grace that prepare the
faithful for an encounter with the whole Christ (totus Christus), which the Sunday
liturgical assembly represents. The reality of the onsite worship spells the nature of
the Church such that in moments of emergency, online worship serves only as a
support and not a substitute.
Fr George Adimike
findfadachigozie@gmail.com

WHEN CHILDREN BECOME COMMODITIES

WHEN CHILDREN BECOME COMMODITIES

More efforts should be made to interrogate cases of disappearing children, writes Olusegun Adeniyi

Early this month, police in Lagos uncovered a suspected ‘baby factory’ and rescued 19 pregnant girls aged between 15 and 28 in Ikotun area of the state. Brought to Lagos, the girls were impregnated and upon delivery, their babies were then taken from them and sold for prices ranging from N300,000 to N500,000 depending on the sex. And just last week, nine stolen children were traced by the police to, and recovered from, Anambra State. Aged between two and 10 years, the children were reportedly kidnapped from various locations in Kano metropolis before being sold to some merchants in Anambra. “The suspects confessed to have conspired among themselves and kidnapped various children from areas like Sauna, KwanarJaba, Kawo, Hotoro, Yankaba and Dakata quarters, all within the Kano metropolis,’’ said the Kano State Commissioner of Police, Ahmed Iliyasu.

The mental torture of not knowing the whereabouts of your child is something one should not wish anybody. That explains why the Yoruba would say, “‘my child is dead’ offers more comfort than ‘my child is missing’” because of the roller coaster of emotions. Yet Nigeria, according to the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC), “has the highest caseload of missing people that the ICRC is actively searching for in the world. Nearly 60 per cent of the caseload were minors at the time they went missing.” The question now is, how many of these children were stolen from the streets by members of this criminal gang?

This is a new dimension to criminality in our country that is very disturbing. Sadly, because we like to create equivalences for religious and ethnic reasons, some people have turned this unfortunate tragedy of the stolen Kano children into a debate about how much media attention the issue is receiving as against the frenzy generated by similar incidences in the past. And with that unhelpful distraction, a wedge is being created on a serious crime we should all be fighting together.

In June this year in Jos, Plateau State, a 30-year-old mother, Mrs Mary Chukwuebuka, reported how she gave birth to a baby girl on 28th May, but three days later, the child was stolen from her at the hospital by a woman who posed as a doctor. In one of those rare cases where the police perform creditably, the child was found about a week later and the culprit arrested. “Paternity test, done through DNA, and the blood groups genotype testing, had all shown that the child belongs to the couple. They are the real parents of the child”, said the delighted Chief Medical Director of the hospital while handing the baby back to her mother. Not all such cases end that way.

So prevalent is the crime that the Network of Civil Society Organisations Against Child Trafficking, Abuse and Labour (NACTAL) last year urged the federal government to provide adequate security to forestall stealing of newborn babies in hospitals. The group’s National President, Mr Adaramola Emmanuel, who recalled how a day-old baby of deaf and dumb parents was allegedly stolen at a hospital in Kaduna, urged the authorities across the country to put in place measures to guarantee the security of newborn babies. The United Nations has since ranked child trafficking as the third most common crime in Nigeria after financial fraud and drug trafficking. According to the UN, which put the worth of the global child trafficking business at US$33 billion annually, no fewer than 10 children are sold in Nigeria on a daily basis.

However, the Kano incident should worry all critical stakeholders because it represents a dangerous dimension to the challenge. With children being stolen practically in their homes and sold across the country by some unscrupulous people, almost like merchandise, we have entered a new low. But it perhaps also provides explanation for why many children are disappearing in our country without any trace. While we must therefore commend the police for this breakthrough, it is important that they quickly conclude their investigation and bring the perpetrators of this most heinous crime to justice to serve as deterrence to others. We should also be thinking of creating support systems for the families of such victims.

It is sad that the Kano children have been reunited with their families without any assistance from the authorities, and I am not talking about money. In his piece, ‘The Leftovers: Life as the Parents of Missing Children’, Max Kutner recounted the experiences of several fathers and mothers whose children were missing, including those that were later found. A man whose son was abducted in 1998 at age four and was found 10 years later as a 14-year-old, said: “He’s largely a stranger to me, because after four or five, I never had the opportunity to get to know him, nor he me.” The emotion of the ordeal, he added, “becomes a deep hollow emptiness and a wound that never quite heals.”

Reunification experts, according to Kutner, say “parents are sometimes unprepared for how their child might look or act upon return.” In the case of the Kano children, there are already challenges with reports that they can no longer speak the language of their parents. Handling this kind of situation requires some form of expertise, so the parents need support. “When the child has been missing or exploited, and they come back together with the family, that’s when the really tough work starts,” according to Sheryl Stokes, a family advocacy specialist with the United States’ National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

It is also time we confronted the sordid practice where some girls are held captive until they give birth and compelled to give up their babies for money, which has become rather prevalent in our country. There is a way in which this social menace also connects with the Kano tragedy. Both are well organised crimes thriving among some desperate Nigerians who have come to regard stealing and selling innocent children as a business. Targeted are the most vulnerable of our society. For every child stolen from cities like Kano, only God knows how many have been kidnapped from the rural areas across the country.

There is another dimension to the crime that we should not ignore. Adoption of babies by childless couples or single mothers, which used to be a taboo in the past, is now very popular in our country, especially among the urban elites. While there are a few orphanages doing wonderful work for the society in this regard, I understand that the demand for babies to be adopted is far higher than these authorised orphanages can meet. Because of that, it sometimes takes month or years before couples who register for children get their dreams fulfilled. That is also what many criminally-minded people are capitalising on, in a bid to make money.

With the breakthrough by the police on the ‘Kano Nine’, efforts should be made to further interrogate the crime so as to get to the root of other such disappearances and those involved. The authorities must also do more to curb the antics of men who lure women into ‘baby factories’ for the purpose of transactional procreation. It is obvious that some Nigerians have been afflicted with a poverty of the mind that has made them to lose their humanity just to make money. If we don’t confront them together, they will imperil all of us.

Adeniyi is Chairman, THISDAY Editorial Board

Independence Day: We celebrate emptiness – Archbishop Obinna

Independence Day: We celebrate emptiness – Archbishop Obinna

Nigerians have been told to weep rather than make merry, because our country, which last Tuesday clocked 59 years since its independence from British Colonial rule, has nothing to show for it. Nigerians should instead fast and pray on this year’s Independence Anniversary Day.

His Grace, Most Rev. Anthony J.V. Obinna, Catholic Archbishop of Owerri expressed this view, last Sunday, September 29, while preaching the sermon at the Eucharistic celebration to mark the country’s 2019 independence celebration.

The prelate said that those great hopes cherished in the hearts of Nigerians as they won independence from Britain, on October 1, 1960 have not been realized till date, but instead, over the years, the country has been emptied of the greatness associated with her. “This is a day for weeping for Nigeria not a day for celebrating or eating and drinking unnecessarily because Nigeria is an endangered country, Nigerians are an endangered people. This is the truth, it’s difficult to travel across Nigeria today as we used to do in those days even within the same state, you are afraid you may lose your life. There is danger everywhere even though, we still travel.

The prelate who revealed that as a Junior Seminarian at the time the country gained her independence in 1960, he literally swore that he was going to use his talent to serve Nigeria and to help Nigeria become great,” said: “Today, it is not because of Nigeria that I serve. I don’t serve Nigeria because Nigeria deserves it. I serve Nigeria because God has given me blessings, talents and opportunities to serve his people in Nigeria.”.

Archbishop Obinna stated: “That is why we are being challenged that now we have the opportunity to rebuild Imo, we must avoid extravagance, extra enjoyment in a way that is distasteful…”

He said that God is placing this challenge before all of us in Nigeria and in Imo State, that we cannot continue living foolishly, eating and drinking recklessly when so many people are starving and dying of hunger.

The Most Rev Obinna regretted that there are so many programmes aimed at alleviating the poverty of the people but they have not gone an inch deep.

According to him, there is plenty in Nigeria but because of the way this plenty is being used, there is so much oppression, so much bitterness, so much kidnapping and so many killings.

He said that other countries provide social benefit scheme even for the unemployed, so that every month something could be given to those who don’t have access to the normal sources of survival. The prelate regretted that Nigeria lacks a good foreign image, as she is being rated the most corrupt country in the world, adding “If we bother about Nigerians internally, if there were love, peace and a sense of generosity across Nigeria, if we had self-respect, other countries would respect us.

He condemned double standards by our security personnel, stressing that neutrality should characterize their operations no matter the position held by anyone in the society, since no Nigerian is above the law.

The Osu-caste System: The unfortunate apartheid in Igboland

The Osu-caste System: The unfortunate apartheid in Igboland

Among the obnoxious, outrageous and devastating traditions and beliefs in lgboland is the ‘Osu-casste system’ which has in different places both in the past and present becomes a key of disunity, humiliation, infringements and isolation in the places where they are practiced. Osu-caste system according to OkaforJ.N, is an ideology of class domination that incorporates the beliefs that a particular class of people is to be disinherited and excluded from association, with others, either because they are themselves victims of ritual offering or they are descended from those who were victims. (Okafor, J.N., The Challenge of Osu Caste System to the Christians, Onitsha: VERITAS Painting & Publication Co.Ltd,1993,p.16). It can equally be viewed as people sacrificed to the gods in lgbo community. As such, different historical data underpin the origin of this obnoxious practice which is preponderant in the Eastern part of Nigeria; and we recall with nostalgia that in the past; the ardent supporters of the Osu Caste system would not buy whatever the osu merchants had for sale in the local markets and other similar discriminatory attitudes meted the so-called Osu. Moreover, during that period in review, some of them who were interested in politics were often denied the necessary support from the rest of the community of their residence. This is not only in relation politics but in almost all the strata of human development

Hence, this has greatly hindered the social development of such communities. Sadly, these characteristics of the Osu caste system are contrary to the modern world views.

Notably, there are misconceptions against the Osu; ranging from the fact that socializing with them would contaminate, pollute, and transform the ‘Diala’ into an ‘Osu’, that since the Osu has been dedicated to gods, it is a taboo to socialize with them. Yet, other stories have it that it is because they are ‘dirty’ or have ‘repulsive body odour’ and are ‘lazy’. These are all fallacious and inhuman presumptions calculated to poison the minds of people against others who are created in the image and likeness of God just like themselves. Laying credence on the above assertion and considering the circumstances and exigencies of our present time and society, one would conclude that it is baseless and unjustified; bearing in mind the industrious nature of ‘Osu’. Statistically, they are the most prosperous, be it in the economic, academic or industrial spheres and even in the known religious sectors of human endeavour. Axiomatically, it is a known fact that inequality, abuse of human and civil rights, absence of natural law, discrimination and absence of freedom are among the causes of conflicts in our society today.

Consequently, life in its natural state has the same meaning for everyone, but the Osu caste system seems to have changed the meaning of life for the group of people who are branded Osu. Presently, one could acquire the Osu caste status through inheritance and marriage. However, ostracism outside contagious diseases is very painful and this is what our brothers and sisters, men and women of prominence and high proficiency in their areas of enterprise suffer on the bases of an illogical principle. Thus, detrimentally affecting their communities of habitation, for their good endowments would no longer be a superlative benefit to the communities in question. Obviously, the Osu culture violates the civil and human rights of the people subjected to it Like the racial discrimination in the United States, the Osu caste system promotes an ideology of the supremacy of the ‘Diala’ over the ‘Osu’. On the other hand, racial discrimination occurs mostly between people of different skin colours or between people of different nationalities. It is unfathomable from the angle of ethnicity that such ideology still exists in the social history of our people. It is even outrageous how Christians react to this issue. A typical case was the response of Obi’s father when Obi wanted to marry Clara an Osu, in Chinua Achebe’s ‘No Longer at Ease’, “we are Christians, but it is no reason to marry an Osu”. (Achebe, C., No Longer at ease, London: Heinemann Education Books, 1974, p. 120).

Despite the efforts of our Leaders, both spiritual and temporal, particularly Archbishop Anthony J.V Obinna of the Catholic Archdiocese of Owerri, who has been a tireless advocate of social reform vis-a-vis this abysmal tradition, many of our people are still adamant to the wind of change aimed at disentangling them from this baseless notion. In as much as it is not as severe as it were in the past, there are still behaviours that tend towards stigmatization and antagonism on those tagged Osu. At this juncture, it is laudable to pinpoint that this ugly belief is deeply embedded m the fabrics of the core Igbo man, Christian or no Christian; that is the reason why people still respond like Obi’s father., even after the liberation brought by the gospel of Christ. What a show of shame! Furthermore, it is highly incomprehensible why some people would not be allowed to marry on the basis of Osu, whereas, no strong objection would be raised when they are courting. It is only when it comes to marriage issues, election to the Ezeship stool, building projects, and in many other traditional matters that this Osu phenomenon would come to the fore, thus putting enmity between brothers, friends, close associates, and even in families. Oh, what an unfortunate apartheid!

Actually, the heartache, pains, discomfort, agony and psychological trauma caused by this hydra-headed phenomenon cannot be over accentuated in a society such as Nigeria where there are no enforceable law to protect the human rights of citizens, an Osu person is often exposed to public ridicule, discrimination, dehumanization, etc. it is a truism that hatred and distrust between and among groups or nations are not recent concepts; they are realities that have been there right from the cradle of human existence. All over the globe, we see glimmers of hatred and segregation despite international laws that promote inter-personal and intercultural relations at all levels. In line with this, the Black in the United States suffered terrible discrimination in the hands of the whites which led to the ‘Rosa Parks incident’ that culminated in the ‘Black Demonstration’ and the famous Martin Luther King’s speech “I have a dream”. As we evoke with dismay, the terrible discrimination suffered by the blacks in the United States, we equally recall a similar case, the famous Apartheid in South Africa, where blacks suffered similar discrimination in the hands of the whites. Candidly, the social development of a nation must include, among other things, justice, fairness and equal treatment for its citizens. Accordingly, Lord Gordon Hewart in “Jackson’s The Chief’ asserts: “it is not merely in some importance that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done”. (Dictionary of Quotations, Scotland, David Dale House Publishers, 2001, p.2O6). Hence, it behoves on every nation to provide and protect the civil and human rights of its citizen irrespective of birth, race, colour, sex, language, religion, political affiliation, property, and national or social region.

On another note, Osu-caste system is equivalent to the Western racism which the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blaire on his glowing tribute at the funeral of the former South African President, Nelson Mandela opined as immoral and stupid. Accordingly, he derided racism and equally drew the attention of his fellow whites to learn and renounce such immoral act.

Sequel to this, we need to eschew this Osu-Diala divide amongst us which was passed on over centuries by ancient and unreasonable traditions. It violates the fundamental human right of an individual or group of people.

 IZUAZU EUGENE C. Writes from Owerri; E-mail: chidiizuazu4@gmai.comTele: 07065106981

APC becoming corrupt politicians’ safe haven – CAN tells Buhari

APC becoming corrupt politicians’ safe haven – CAN tells Buhari

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) on Friday told President Muhammadu Buhari that the ruling All Progressives Congress was becoming a safe haven for corrupt politicians.

CAN, therefore, asked the President to make the war against corruption total and non-discriminatory in order to rid the nation of the corruption cancer which has eaten deep into her fabric.

The CAN leadership, led by its President, Dr. Samson Ayokunle, spoke in Abuja during a meeting with Buhari at the Presidential Villa.

“Like we categorically noted here during our last visit, the wish of the people is for the war against corruption to be total and without discrimination. Not a few believe that the ruling party is becoming a safe haven to some corrupt politicians in their bid to escape the trap of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission,” Ayokunle told the President.

The leadership of the Christian body said Buhari must clear the negative impression that the anti-corruption was targeted at non-APC members.

It, however, commended, the government’s anti-corruption war, saying it had led to the recovery of some looted funds.

“CAN commends your boldness and courage in implementing the BVN and the Treasury Single Account system. There is no doubt that the two policies have greatly helped in sanitising the system,” it added.

On the 2019 polls, CAN asked Buhari to improve on the credibility of the 2015 polls that brought him into power by ensuring that next year’s general elections are freely and fairly conducted.

Specifically, the Christian body called for a Presidential Order directing the police and other security agencies to be non-partisan during the elections, adding that it was in Buhari’s interest to ensure that the performance of the Independent National Electoral Commission surpassed that of 2015.

CAN stated, “A Presidential Order to the Police and other security agencies to be non-partisan, neutral and apolitical in the coming general elections, with a view to securing international respect and honour for our country in the comity of nations.

“The degree of desperation we saw in the politicians during the intra-party elections that took place recently do not give many people hope concerning 2019 unless serious steps are taken to let decency prevail. We appeal to you to make sure that the law enforcement agents and the election umpire do their work professionally without intimidation of voters, manipulation and any trace of violence throughout the period of elections.

“We believe that the survival and peace of Nigeria are greater than the ambition of any politician.

“We again request that your administration conducts free and fair election that will add to the accolades the country received from the conduct of the 2015 elections that brought you to power.”

On the security situation of the country, CAN raised concerns over insecurity in the country, saying the Buhari administration must double its efforts in bringing the killings in states such as Plateau, Adamawa, Benue, Zamfara, Kebbi and Taraba under control.

The leadership of the Christian body observed that as much as Boko Haram had been tamed to a large extent, the insurgents were still hitting “soft targets” and taking many lives.

It said, “The menace of bandits in states like Zamfara and Kebbi has become a nightmare, coupled with the unending killings by herdsmen in the North-Central geopolitical zone, especially in Plateau, Benue and Taraba states. Not only have these attackers killed hundreds of innocent lives on the Plateau, they are presently occupying homes of their victims in Gashish District of Plateau State.

“(The) appalling conditions in some of the Internally Displaced Persons’ camps are driving many into despair. Unarguably, the failure of the police to nip the activities of these criminals in the bud accounts for drafting of the military to quell civil insurrection.

It added, “Other criminal elements amidst us like kidnappers and hired killers are still perpetrating their havocs as if might has become right. It is not yet UHURU, and the long walk to bidding farewell to these criminal acts is fraught with tedious bends.”

Among others, CAN called for more intelligence gathering by security agencies and “a total overhauling of the security system with a view to replacing security chiefs who have overstayed their welcome.”

The body also asked for the setting up of a judicial commission of inquiry to look into the killing of the late Director of Administration of the Army, Maj. Gen. Idris Alkali (retd.), and the “circumstances surrounding the kidnap and killing of the paramount chief of the Adara Chiefdom in Kaduna State, His Royal Highness, the Agom Adara, Dr. Maiwada Raphael Galadima.”

It also made a call for all efforts to be made to secure the release of the remaining Dapchi schoolgirl being held by Boko Haram, Leah Sharibu.

On the continued detention of a former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.), and the Leader of the Shi’ites, Mallam Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, CAN appealed to the government to ensure that the rule of law was adhered to in their prosecution. – Punch.